When will driverless buses operate on public roads?
Some buses already use advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), systems that help bus drivers maintain control, for example in narrow lanes, and to avoid collisions. While most of the systems being piloted today use warnings and alerts to help direct driver actions, systems with automation elements have also been tested by transit agencies. Transit agencies have tested prototype systems capable of assisting with precision docking, lane centering, and automated emergency braking. These systems are incrementally moving transit bus operations toward increasing levels of automation, providing FTA, transit operators, bus manufacturers, and other relevant stakeholders with time to adapt to the new technology.
It may be several years before fully automated buses operate on public roads, though there are several pilot deployments using SAE Level 4 automated shuttles with the capacity to transport 6-15 passengers at low speeds (generally with operating speeds of 10-15 mph). These low-speed automated shuttles have not only been tested on closed tracks and in parking lots, but some are operating in mixed traffic and on public roads. Current pilots still use on-board attendants, who are able to control the vehicle if it encounters an unfamiliar situation, fails to detect obstacles, or needs human intervention. These shuttles may not have the capability to provide the same level of service as regular transit service or operate in the more complex operating environments, but may be able to provide basic circulator service on relatively simple routes.